Julie Logan of retail outlet, The Olive Branch, Castle Donington, emailed to tell us: “Just having a look through the May edition of TnP and want to congratulate you, its great with so much info and interesting articles.” Julie featured in our April edition and in our latest issue TnP’s Clare Turner talks to Paul Wohl, CEO of Essex Toymaster retailer Argosy Toys. You can read his full interview here:

Tell us about your business.

Argosy Toys has been trading continuously since 1947 (when the word ‘Argosy’ was in more common usage, meaning ‘an opulent supply’). This makes it one of the oldest independent toy shops in the UK. 

My parents bought it in 1987 and I’ve been working in the store since I was 14 years old. I helped out after school, on Saturdays, and during school holidays, and became more and more involved each year. I went to college and started trying to set up my own businesses in the furniture and antiques importing and printing trades – all of which failed.

Then dad asked me to help him out for a week – and that was 24 years ago! He handed the keys to me in 2004, and I’ve now enlisted my son Thom to help run the family firm. 

The shop measures a total of 3,200sq ft, spread over two floors: 2,000sq ft downstairs and 1,200sq ft upstairs. It’s in the Essex town of Westcliff-on-Sea: an eclectic place, caught between Southend-on-Sea and Leigh-on-Sea.

What sets you apart from other toy shops?

Our stock levels and service. We aren’t afraid to be overstocked on anything. We regularly use our house, garage, Safestore and my parents’ loft for extra stock. And we will do almost anything to keep a customer happy. This is missing from the online retailers.

How would you describe your range?   

Part gift, part toys, and part vintage: a lot of our stock comes from our customers who trade in LEGO sets, Funko Pops and vinyl records for cash. 

We carry 100 or so brands and deal with about 80 suppliers. Key names include LEGO, Asmodee, Galt, Epoch Making Toys, Jellycat, Bigjigs Toys, Casdon, and Orchard Toys. Our products range in price from a 50p polystyrene plane up to a £400 LEGO set.

What’s your selection criteria?    

Desirability, value, and margin.

Who is your core clientele?

Everyone. We really do cater to all kinds. Many of our customers are on the autistic spectrum and they seem to really appreciate the LEGO sets we have on display.

What’s selling well?  

LEGO and Pokémon. Also Jellycat – when we can get the hot items. We’ve stocked the brand for a very long time and have 7m of it on display. In the past couple of weeks alone, we’ve sold 50 Jellycat Pickles, which is terrific. 

But we had to take Jellycat off our website to stop the eBayers sweeping in and stripping us out. It was annoying, but we need to protect our stock from toy touts who take advantage. That happened a lot in Covid times, with Pokémon. 

What lines have you started stocking recently?  

Cobi is the newest. These are brick kits that specialise in scale, replica, military sets. The WW2 Historical Collection sells well, especially army fighter planes and tanks. They are particularly popular with adults who also like our Airfix scale model kits.  

What’s next for your toys: are you looking at expanding into new categories?

Our record department is getting bigger this year; we’ve given over less space for LEGO as the margins have dropped.

What are you looking forward to seeing/stocking in the summer?

Sunshine – and all the general outdoor items. 

What’s next for your business: do you have any exciting news or plans that you would like to share?  

We are 77 this year and on our birthday in March, we marked the milestone by giving away lots of goody bags over one weekend during the Easter holidays. 

Many suppliers kindly donated gifts including Bandai, Character Options, Magic Box, Depesche, Epoch Making Toys, Playmobil, Basic Fun!, Bigjigs Toys, Ty, Plus-Plus, Simba Toys, Orchard Toys, DKB Toys & Distribution, and Big Potato Games. 

And we even convinced a staff member to dress up for the occasion in a Sylvanian Families Rabbit costume!  

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Honestly, it’s making customers happy. We have lots of fun here and parents treat a trip to us as a family day out. We demonstrate products, and have 50 built-up LEGO sets on display. Customers can even build their own LEGO mini figures. We are more of a community centre than a toy shop. 

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Dealing with suppliers who sell to the big multiples at 20% lower than they sell to us.

What’s your all-time favourite toy?

Kapla: a German brand of wooden planks that are exactly the same size. It’s a construction game based on a single module. As Kapla says: you simply assemble the planks, without glue or clips, and build what you wish! Balance is the only rule; imagination is the only limit.

What’s your current favourite toy or game on your shelves?

Ghost Blitz: a spooky family card game from Big Potato Games.

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